The Points of Light Campaign (D&D 4e)
Adventure #2 WOTC H2 Thunderspire Labyrinth (Level 4)
Encounter #52 W5: The Restless Dead.
Click on the Links to see the Skill Challenge Stat cards.
The Restless Dead Skill Challenge (Level 5 Complexity 5)
Encounter Level 5- 1000 XP
Sunday, 2nd of Readying, 2000.
The PCs rise-and-shine and head off in to the Well of Demons proper, at first the guys are excited by the chambers- a nice poster map, slicked with blood and lots of things to investigate, however… well, read on.
A short while later they find themselves confronted by three ghostly figures- Valdrog the Brute (ex-Human Cleric of Kord), Sir Terris (ex-Dwarf Paladin of Pelor) and Mendara the Mystic (ex-Elf Wizard), although the three ghosts while quick to hail the adventurers are slow to reveal their identities.
The guys are quickly into a Skill Challenge (12 Successes needed before 6 Failures, yeah that’s what it says in the module- 6 failures, go figure I thought it was usually 3), Phrenic- the leader of the adventurers recognises that one of the ghosts is a Wizard- the Tiefling questions Mendara, who gives up her name and occupation in the exchange, Phrenic wishes to know what lies ahead. All the while he peppers his conversation with arcane phrases in an attempt to impress the Wizard with his understanding of the magical arts (Arcana check- success, 1:0). Mendara is assuaged, she speaks quickly and seemingly doesn’t have time to stop and explain, she tells Phrenic that:
This place is the Proving Grounds, a testing place for worshippers of the demon lord Baphomet. You must find four items: a knife, a mask, a bell, and a book. You must place each of these items on one of four circles of runes found in this complex. The items must be placed on the runes at the exact same time.
Phrenic fetches out the little book they found earlier in the Shrine to Baphomet, and indicates to Mendara, and the other Ghosts, that they are a quarter of the way there already. Winstanley struts up to the Ghosts and makes certain the spectral fellows know who they are addressing- he introduces his colleagues (as mighty adventurers) and makes quite a show of their prowess (Bluff check- failure, 1:1)- the Ghosts look mightily unimpressed, particularly as the Halfling has been less than courteous- Kaspard attempts to step in and smooth the way, she uses her honeyed words in an attempt to Aid the Halfling (Aid Another Diplomacy check- failure, 1:1). The adventurers (and the players) are shocked- Kaspard has never failed to be Diplomatic in the past (she rolled a ‘1’).
The Restless Dead- Sir Terris, ex-Dwarven Paladin of Pelor- Spook!
Dirty notes that one of the Ghosts is a martial character, or else a warrior of some sort, the Dwarf orders the Ghost to battle, to defend himself, a ‘test’ of mettle rather than a genuine confrontation- Valdrog the Brute gives his name and then assents- a space is cleared and the combatants clash- Dirty is on his backside in seconds (Athletics check- failure, 1:2). The red-faced Dwarf gingerly climbs to his feet, and then is ‘talked down’ by his comrades- they assure him his attacks cannot harm the Ghost (Dirty rolled… a ‘1’).
Grey steps forward- the true master of the arcane- the Wizard talks for a while in an attempt to harangue Mendara into telling more of what she knows, Grey has developed a stutter or else- the young mage trips on words and in places fails to make any sense (Arcana check- failure, 1:3). Mendara accuses Grey of being no more than a ‘hedge wizard’ with little understanding of the craft (Grey rolls a ‘2’).
The players are absolutely horrified- the dice are against them.
The PCs are distraught, a group huddle follows and a plan is hatched, the adventurers break in to two groups- Phrenic and Winstanley will attempt to dazzle Mendara further with their knowledge of the arcane. While Dirty, Kaspard and Winstanley design a little shadow play to entertain, educate and show off their diplomatic, athletic and acrobatic skills respectively.
This is the first time with these guys that a Skill Challenge has really gone south, the players figure they need to succeed at the Challenge (they’re unaware that failure can also bring a sliver of success), they are therefore adopting an ultra-conservative approach with plenty of Aid Another checks. It’s a little meh of course, because if it produces success then the guys are just going to repeat the same trick again and again- and I don’t blame them really.
The new plan quickly proves its worth- Mendara is now convinced of both Phrenic and Grey’s magical knowledge (Arcana check with Aid Another by Phrenic- success, 2:3), the Elven Wizard supplies another titbit of information-
“The other three items are held within chambers built to test Baphomet’s worshipers- you of course must pass each of these tests. You can find these chambers to the north, west, and south of where we now stand, through the eastern double doors and then through another set of double doors that leads to the west.”
Dirty, Kaspard & Winstanley put on their sideshow, a cross between a mummers play, narrated by Kaspard, and a floor show designed to show off Winstanley lithe and agile nature- the acrobatic Halfling wows his crowd (Acrobatics check with Athletics Aid Another from Dirty- success, 3:3). Although the other two Ghosts are still reluctant to add to the sum of the PCs knowledge- it seems Mendara is the chatty one.
With this in mind Phrenic and Grey repeat the formula, only this time Phrenic leads and Grey follows- Mendara is convinced (Arcana check with Aid Another by Grey- success, 4:3). Mendara has more to say-
“The fourth item, the book, is on an altar in a small shrine to the east- but of course you already know this.” This new info leaves the adventurers less than impressed, and less inclined it seems to impress- Kaspard, Dirty and Winstanley’s stage show culminates in a feat of strength- and Dirty, once again, fluffs his part (Athletics check with Acrobatics Aid Another by Winstanley & Diplomacy Aid Another by Kaspard- failure, 4:4).
The Restless Dead- Valdrog the Brute, ex-Human Cleric of Kord- Slither!
And now the PCs are more than a little flustered- truth be told, as am I, the guys are doing some good role-play, and I’m happy to give them bonuses to their rolls because of the efforts they’re going to but, they keep rolling ‘5’ or less- and more often ‘1’- at least four of them in only 12 or so rolls. What’s a DM to do?
Truth be told the DM- this DM, should have took the situation by the scruff of the neck and directed the action a bit better- the three Ghosts should have asked the questions, I didn’t though- I left it to the guys to make all of the moves. My bad.
The PCs, and the Skill Challenge, plods on, basically the guys try the same tactics again.
Phrenic & Grey conjure their usual success (Arcana check (as previous)- success, 5:4)- but alas they don’t learn anything new from Mendara. Their followed however by yet another failure, and another ‘1’ from Dirty with his Athletics check (5:5), Dave is apoplectic, trying to make up for his earlier failures he… fails again.
This was the moment for us when the Skill Challenge went from being an exciting mini-game, or else an easy way to calculate successes and rewards for good role-play, to a pointless dice rolling exercise.
And so another plan is formed (the guys are not giving up)- Dirty heads off to sharpen his axe, Winstanley takes a nose around the chamber while the other three- Kaspard, Grey and Phrenic, take it in turns to lead or else Aid Another in Arcana or Diplomacy checks- how dull is that. The two martial Ghosts are addressed by Kaspard with her Diplomacy checks, however two thirds of the action is aimed at impressing Mendara.
The result of course is never in doubt, not a single failure follows, we complete the action- round by round, with only one check per round, the other two PCs just aiding the initial check.
Even the role-play gets dull as both sides run out of things to say to each other, all told it takes another twenty minutes of huffing and puffing to get through the rest of the Skill Challenge and secure the twelve successes required.
Along the way the Ghosts tell all however.
Mendara states that-
“To the east of the Proving Grounds is the inner sanctum. Its door opens only when the proper ceremony is completed. The items used for the ceremony disappear if you try to remove them from the Well of Demons, and upon completion of the ceremony, they return to their former locations.”
“Completing this ceremony summons the terrible Guardian and activates several traps in the area. The Guardian is a green dragon imprisoned here. It can swoop past its prey and attack. It emerges from a great pit in the center of the complex.”
While Sir Terris at last gets a speaking part-
“Each of the chambers in this complex has a magical trap designed to harass intruders. The central corridor is the fastest way to move around, but it also has its own trap: a crushing sphere of magical force that rolls along its length.”
Mendara finally adds-
“There is a treasure hidden in the complex. It is hidden beneath the altar in the chamber south of here.”
The Restless Dead- Mendara the Mystic, ex-Elf Wizard- WOoooah! Kidding.
I had prior to this session e-mailed Becky (Kaspard) with a back story for each of the Ghosts- where they fitted in with her knowledge regarding ancient battles in the Well of Demons between the followers of Bahamut, and the Minotaur’s faithful to Baphomet. Or else I thought I had sent Becky the e-mail, as it turns out I hadn’t, or else it went astray somehow, the result was a wasted hour of awkward and incredibly frustrating play that just didn’t get any better.
We take a moment, a break from the game, to discuss what went wrong- out of which my confession tumbles, I should have taken control- the guys likewise admonish themselves, and particularly James (who plays Phrenic), he’s the leading man in this production. It is in James’ nature to take charge, not in a bad way you understand, he’s always the guy that gets the rest of the players together- and focused on the task in hand- it seems we were all a little tired or else under-the-weather this evening. Read on- this fact becomes more apparent as the session unfolds.
And so the guys dismiss the Ghosts with a friendly wave and set about finding the three missing items- the three tests to complete.